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Budgeting Behind Bars: An Amazing Story of Financial Peace in Prison

On Wednesday night, a group of convicted criminals in Seattle will reluctantly stand up and shout, “Show me the money!”

It’s bound to be an awkward moment for everyone. But that won’t stop them.

When these men signed up to take Financial Peace University (FPU), they agreed to follow all of Dave’s instructions throughout the video lessons. That includes learning to do a budget, making a plan for paying off debt, and, yes, even standing to shout when the audience does.

Before long they’ll open their eyes to fingers pointed in all directions—the class attempting to find true north. And that’s when the ice will begin to melt. It’s at this moment, explains coordinators Dave and Linda (pictured above with recent graduates), that an incredible transformation starts to take place.

From personal to purpose

Dave and Linda first took FPU through the home edition with a couple of friends. Inspired, they began working through the Baby Steps and offered to lead FPU at their local church.

After graduating six classes, they were approached by the church’s prison ministry with an idea: take FPU principles to the incarcerated. Linda was nervous at first, but after talking it over with Dave and receiving a $500 starter donation from their church, she decided to give the idea a chance.

They launched their first prison class in September 2010 and recently graduated the tenth group. That represents over 150 inmates who’ve completed the program!

Linda says leading FPU in their local prison has become their passion. “We can be having a bad day at work, but on Wednesday night, we are so excited!”

Dave agrees. “Volunteering gives us a sense of purpose,” he says.

From basics to beyond

A few weeks into their first class at the prison, Dave and Linda discovered a problem. The men didn’t earn an income or pay bills like the average person. Learning to do a budget would be valuable knowledge when they reentered the work force, but until then it wasn’t applicable to their daily lives.

So Dave and Linda created a prison-specific budget. This tailored budget includes items the men are currently required to pay for like hygiene products, groceries and extracurricular activities. With maximum earnings of $55 per month, they truly learn to make the most of what they have.

One man in particular mastered both the prison-specific budget and the monthly cash flow plan so well that he decided to dive a little deeper. He developed multiple budgeting situations to determine how he could make it on varying incomes once he is released.

The desire for more information doesn’t stop there. Inmates regularly borrow books from Dave and Linda’s library, which includes Complete Guide to Money, The Total Money Makeover, More Than Enough and EntreLeadership. Get the books here.

These men are eager to invest time into their financial education because they’ve already invested the money. A class fee of $10 is nearly one-fifth of their monthly income. By the end of the course, though, some inmates offer up another $10 as a donation for fellow prisoners to take FPU.

That’s how much they believe in the life change that takes place.

From friction to freedom

Of course, the classes don’t start out so peaceful.

“The guys we work with are a rough bunch,” says Dave. “They go from stone faced with a ‘We’ll see about this’ attitude to finally having hope.”

Those stories of hope are never-ending.

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Pay off debt fast and save more money with Financial Peace University.

Prior to taking FPU, one inmate talked to his mom every day, ending each call asking for $10. It might not sound like much, but she already had a huge burden—both her son and her husband were in the same prison, leaving her to financially support the family. Then one day, the requests stopped. When she asked why, her son explained that he’d learned to manage his money well and didn’t need any extra. Over time, this small change in conversation revolutionized their relationship!

Another inmate found a way to live on as little as possible. With a budget of just $10 per month, he now sends the remaining $45 home to his wife. And because he shared the principles of FPU with her, she’s used his money to pay off two credit cards. He is working the debt snowball from prison!

It’s not only family relationships that are changing. The inmates participating in FPU come from all types of backgrounds and represent different races, gangs and crimes. Just a few weeks into each class, Dave and Linda are always amazed to find men crossing boundaries, talking to one another about money, and practicing what they’re learning.

And it’s in the learning that they gain confidence. Fears about being released back into society are real and heavy. That’s why, in addition to leading the class on Wednesday nights, Dave and Linda will soon set up shop at the local Denny’s on Mondays. There, they’ll offer support and accountability to prior inmates. It’s one way Dave and Linda can continue to show their respect.

“They’re not just prisoners,” says Linda. “These men are people.”

Be a part of bringing the hope of financial peace to your community! Learn more about starting a Financial Peace University class in your area.

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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